America’s Finest City & The Berlin Wall

Border train. Photo by Jeremy McBride.

Border train. Photo by Jeremy McBride.

This post was co-written by Kati Pinkerton and Matt Kroneberger.

Political geography often influences transport choices with unequal weight. Though Tijuana and San Diego, my home town, form a single human megalopolis, the cities form two international political units. The San Diego trolley will take you to the border in San Ysidro, CA but no further.  You have to get off, walk across the border, and use Mexico’s public transportation from there.  Compare this to the E.U. where the Schengen borders are as porous and integrated as between those between American states. This may make sense from an I.R. perspective, but for land use and transport, the disjuncture in service is just silly.

At the other side of NAFTA, the Windsor, Canada to Detroit, MI bridge has caused more trouble than any common sense infrastructure project ever would from a mobility perspective. Indeed, the West Berlin/East Berlin border, separated by a certain wall, is perhaps history’s greatest lesson in disjoint urban connectivity. Along much of the former Berlin Wall, which stood between nation-states and political systems, now sit shiny glass buildings and parks. What does this teach us about connectivity.

In the age of globalization, connectivity will question of IR, what is the point of walls in the ground or in our minds?

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2 Responses to America’s Finest City & The Berlin Wall

  1. Andrew Bevington says:

    I think the Berlin Wall and the San Diego/Tijuana border are a false comparison. The Wall divided a formerly integrated city, slicing through city blocks and across major boulevards, disrupting the lives of Berliners who for generations had unobstructed access to the entire city and beyond.

    San Diego-Tijuana, as a metropolitan region, grew up around and arguably because of the presence of an invisible international boundary. One of the things that San Diego markets to both tourists and potential home buyers is its Mexican culture, and the city’s long military tradition stretches back to when the area was first claimed by the United States. Similarly, Tijuana owes its size to proximity to the United States, with its superior job opportunities, schools and large numbers of free-spending tourists.

    This speaks to the larger point about walls and borders. Tijuana-San Diego is a city that exists because of the international border-if the border were a hundred miles to the north or south, the city would be much smaller, if it existed at all. In contrast, the Berlin Wall stunted a formerly flourishing city and reduced much of it to an armed camp. Borders can act as engines for both creation and destruction.

    • Andrew’s point is well taken. International borders are drivers of commerce, but ones that are arbitrary. The economy is made up by what are ultimately arbitrary lines. Whereas the Berlin Wall stunted growth, the USMEX Border invented it.

      History aside, the political present is what we are dealing with. Finding ways through policy and cooperation to make the region more integrated (with transit, which pollutes less than the queue of cars fuming into the sky at the border crossing). The removal of the wall was one political solution (albeit, a very different context) to a regional integration problem.

      The other policy solution may come from rescinding artificial legal barriers the U.S. ha that drive (literally) tourism to Windsor or TJ: gambling and drinking. Ontario has legal gambling, which Michigan lacks. Mexico has a lower drinking age (as does Ontario). Those who are privileged with passports are able to cross these tandem barriers (borders and laws) and drive artificial growth further…with implications for transport emissions, personal safety and class fission.

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